Introducing superhero movies to your kids doesn’t have to end when the credits roll. We’ve paired them with activities that are incredibly fun for the whole family.
When I was a boy, every Saturday morning began with Stan Lee. His voice-over introductions to the cartoon series The Incredible Hulk and Spider-Man and His Amazing Spider-Friends ushered me into a world of superhero wonder. That wonder had already started to build, thanks to syndicated reruns of the old Superfriends cartoon show, featuring the Justice League.
Those shows instilled in me a love of superheroes, even when superheroes didn’t love me back. For every triumph like Spider-Man 2 and X-2, or Superman: The Movie and Batman (1989) before them, there was the 1990 straight-to-video Captain America movie, in which Steve Rogers wears rubber ears on the side of his mask and spends his time stealing cars, or the Nick Fury: Agent of Shield tv movie, starring David Hasselhoff as the eye-patch wearing special agent. But not even these missteps could keep me from my favorite heroes’ monthly comic book adventures, from watching The Shadow in theaters, and from rocking out to the theme music to the X-Men and Spider-Man animated series.
Fortunately, by the time I became a father, superhero media had improved significantly. The comics were always good, but my kids have grown up not only watching the best shows from my youth (the Bruce Timm-created DC shows, such as Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, and Justice League Unlimited) but also great modern superhero entertainment. If you get tuckered out of superhero movies make sure you check out our silent films for kids.
The most obvious of these are, of course, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). Both of these franchises bring comic book greats Captain America, Spider-Man, Superman, and Batman to the big screen in a way that appeals to mainstream audiences. These movies make millions of dollars and are enjoyed by people of all ages, to say nothing of the merchandising they inspire.
With all of those options, families have lots of options when it comes to superhero entertainment. But these wider options also mean that not everything is appropriate for every type of kid. Teens will likely be bored by the goofy adventure of StarDog and TurboCat, while young children will be traumatized by Zack Snyder’s moody four-hour Justice League epic.
Overwhelmed? Well, have no fear, nerdy parent! For I am here, to help you become your kids’ favorite superhero.
For Ages 2 – 5
They may be based on 1960s hippie vibes, but the groovy gang from Scooby-Doo remains a hit among young kids, and with good reason. Not only does it star a snack-loving talking dog, but Scooby-Doo teaches kids an important lesson: with a little bravery and critical thinking, even the scariest monster can be revealed to be an easily defeated grump.
In this 2018 animated movie, Shaggy, Scooby, and the gang team up with Batman and the DC Universe heroes featured in the short-lived Batman: Brave and the Bold cartoon series. Where most Batman stories imagine the caped crusader as a brooding creature of the night, Brave and the Bold features a sillier version of the world’s greatest detective, voiced with gusto by Diedrich Bader. Guest-starring a bevy of lesser-known DC characters, including Plastic Man and The Question, Scooby-Doo! And Batman: The Brave and the Bold tells an appropriately zany mystery that will engage your youngest superhero fans while making sure everyone else is entertained.
Make a Day of It!
In The Brave and the Bold, Batman and Velma combine their detective powers to solve a mystery involving villains such as the Riddler and Clayface. Let your kid indulge their inner crime-buster by setting up a mystery. Leave little clues around the house that point to a villain they saw in the movie, such as pieces of playdough to indicate Clayface and puzzles potentially from the Riddler. Take photographs of the next clue’s location to help your child solve the mystery, leading them to a celebratory party, complete with Scooby-Snacks (or maybe graham crackers and goldfish crackers instead).
For Ages 6 – 12
As much fun as superhero stories might be, they don’t always teach kids the best lessons. Not only do most superheroes solve their problems with their fists, but some take themselves way too seriously, stripping out the inherent fun of adventures involving characters in brightly colored costumes.
That’s not the case for the Cartoon Network series Teen Titans Go!, which reimagines DC Comics’ premier team of teen sidekicks into a more relatable set of goofballs. When faced with a supervillain, these Titans worry more about their new theme song or pizza order than they do fighting the bad guy.
This irreverent 2018 film focuses on team-leader Robin (Scott Menville) as he deals with his jealousy that even the most obscure comic character gets a movie before him, including Batman’s loyal butler Alfred. As his quest for fame tears him away from his teammates, they must also deal with the new villain Deathstroke (Will Arnett), who has his shady plans for the world’s heroes.
With genuinely clever gags, catchy songs, and great animation, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies reminds kids that superheroes should be fun.
Make a Day of It!
Behind all the jokes and tunes, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is a superhero movie about superhero movies. It deals with the genre’s craziest excesses while celebrating the joy of being a fan. Your family can do the same by making your own goofy superhero movie. As the Teen Titans show, you don’t need a deep plot: just put some good guys and bad guys together and embrace the silliness that ensues. Your kids can either dress up as their favorite heroes from the Marvel and DC universes or they can create their own. Record the movies on your phone and use simple editing apps to put it all together and host your movie night. (And if you need inspiration, check out the delightful SuperHeroKids YouTube videos to see how it’s done). We’ve also listed the best TV shows for 7-year-olds that will be entertaining for the whole family.
For Ages 13 – 15
In many ways, this is the definitive age for superhero movies. Not only are most of the entries in the genre rated PG-13, but they tend to suit early teen sensibilities, with straightforward morality and captivating action scenes.
The immensely successful Marvel Cinematic Universe offers a wide variety of choices for the parents of teens, but the best bet may be The Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, directed by James Gunn. In this 2017 sequel, the titular team of space-faring heroes runs from the clutches of arrogant aliens called the Sovereign and meets the all-powerful Celestial Ego (Kurt Russell), who claims to be the long-lost father of Guardian Star-Lord (Chris Pratt).
With some of the most vibrant visuals in the MCU, and unquestionably the best soundtrack, Guardians 2 is a wild and irreverent adventure. Parents may want to watch this movie in the dark so their kids don’t have to catch them blushing at a few off-color jokes.
But for all its punk rock attitude, Guardians 2 is a story about family and maturity, as the team comes to realize the power of unconditional love and the ties that bind us together.
Make a Day of It!
Like its 2014 predecessor, The Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 features a killer soundtrack of 70s AM radio hits. More than just a glossy detail, these songs serve a plot and theme purpose, as the songs come from a series of tapes that Star-Lord’s late mother recorded for him. These “Awesome Mix” tapes give the movies a rocking backdrop and an emotional core.
Your family can recreate these tapes by making their own Awesome Mixes for one another. Using a service like Spotify, your family members can create playlists for one another, collecting the songs with meaning or with messages you’d like to share. Or, if you want to follow the movie’s old-school spirit, consider getting a tape recorder and recording your mixtapes.
For Ages 16-18
Even as a life-long superhero fan, I can admit that most superhero movies are pretty silly. For all the fun they offer, most have pretty simplistic morality and do not seem interested in larger social questions.
Black Panther breaks that mold. Directed by Ryan Coogler and starring the late, great Chadwick Boseman, Black Panther is 100% an MCU film. Not only does it connect to previous Marvel films, especially Captain America: Civil War, but it also offers grand action sequences involving superspies, spaceships, and an armored rhino army.
But Black Panther has much more on its mind than just superhero intrigue. Set in the fictional African nation of Wakanda, a country whose vast supply of the super-metal Vibranium makes it the most advanced culture in the world, the movie takes seriously issues such as global racism. In a blistering performance, Michael B. Jordan plays the villain Erik Stevens aka Killmonger, the cousin of Boseman’s King T’Challa, who was abandoned by Wakanda to become a violent operative in the U.S. special forces.
In Jordan’s hands, Killmonger is the rare supervillain who not only has an understandable motivation but raises good points, despite his destructive ways. In Boseman’s hands, Black Panther is the even more rare good guy who learns from his predecessor’s mistakes and joins with the people around him to be the best hero he can be.
A film both challenging and entertaining, Black Panther will give your family an evening of both spectacle and thought.
Make a Day of It!
Black Panther uses superhero tropes to tell a story about the costs of racism and the importance of learning from mistakes. It also introduces the world to a range of exciting characters from the comics, such as Winston Duke’s delightful leader M’Baku.
Your family can continue the hard conversations Black Panther raises by taking a hard look at the stories from which superhero movies were born. Sign up for a comic book service such as DC Universe Infinite, Marvel Unlimited, or Comixology Unlimited and read some classic stories together. As you read, look for examples of positive role models found in these stories or occasional missteps made by creators. This activity can teach your children to be critical thinkers about the stories they love.